Increased grasshopper numbers impact ranchers

SHERIDAN — There are more than 100 species of grasshoppers in the United States, but only about 12 play the role of pest that rangeland and cropland in northern Sheridan County and Montana are currently experiencing.

And the main culprit this year is the migratory grasshopper, according to University of Wyoming Extension Entomologist Scott Schell.

He said in a normal year, there might only be three or four grasshoppers per square yard, but those numbers are higher — possibly up to 30 per square yard — given the favorable conditions in the area this summer.

The warm and dry climate we have experienced for the last several months increases the likelihood of survival into adulthood, he said.

For Alan Lloyd, a rancher in Otter, Montana, the amount of grasshoppers has gotten so bad he said they have started to feel the financial impacts of the pests.

This has primarily been felt through the need to purchase hay for livestock months earlier than normal because the grasshoppers have eaten what they typically have.

“We graze usually until late December, and we’re going to be feeding here in October,” he said. “So it’s the financial impact of buying hay. We’ve got hay trucks coming yesterday and today, so that is an economic impact of the grasshoppers.”

In addition, he said their harvest of any remaining hay will be nonexistent or very poor this year — adding more to the financial impact.

He said the grasshoppers, combined with this year’s drought, have made their range conditions as bad as he can remember since at least 1988, but, unfortunately, he doesn’t believe there’s much they can do at this point but live with them and hope they start to die down soon.

“I would spray if I had to, but spray also kills a lot of bugs that are friends and you hate taking them out,” he said. “If you try to go out and spray on your own, the cost is prohibitive.”

This sentiment was echoed by Schell, who said that the right time to fight against grasshoppers is in the spring before they hatch, and that “control measures taken now are called revenge,” because they wouldn’t really address the problem.

Luke Sander, Sheridan County Weed and Pest supervisor, said the grasshopper issue seems to be fairly cyclical, with the problem popping up in the area every seven to 10 years, on average.

He said because of this cycle, they sprayed roughly 350,000 acres in the spring in anticipation, which did help curb the problem in most of Sheridan County.

However, Sander said it’s hard to cover everywhere grasshoppers will be, so the portions of the county that border Montana are still struggling and another spray will have to occur.

Schell said it’s important ranchers don’t let their guards down as we move into the winter and next spring, because there is a good chance we could see this infestation again if proper measures aren’t taken.

“The threat remains because the high population produces lots of eggs,” he said. “You could still have an outbreak, even if you have a 90% mortality rate.”